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Blunt-backed suicide crisis hotline goes live in Missouri

Jefferson City, Mo. — Missourians experiencing a mental health crisis will now only have to remember three numbers, 9-8-8. The hotline attached to the shortened number went live in Missouri over the weekend.

988 is a national initiative, simplifying and improving the services of the previous National Suicide Prevention hotline. 1-800-273-8255, the previous hotline number, will continue to function and both numbers will connect callers to the same services. Those seeking mental health services can also text the 988 number.

U.S. Sen Roy Blunt welcomed the launch of 988 on Friday, the new number went live on Saturday.

“The number of calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline skyrocketed in recent years as Americans struggled with the mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Each one of those calls can be a life or death moment for a person in crisis,” Blunt said. “We need to be sure the capacity is there to answer every call as quickly as possible. As the top Republican on the appropriations subcommittee that funds health programs, I have been proud to work with my colleagues to substantially increase federal funding to transition to the lifeline’s new 988 number.”

Blunt serves on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies. Blunt also backed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which was signed into law last month and provided $150 million in federal money for the launch of 988.

The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act also gave states the opportunity to expand mental health services in accordance with the Excellence in Mental Health program, which started in 2014. Missouri is one of nine states participating in the Excellence in Mental Health pilot program, according to a press release from Blunt.

988’s implementation was a national initiative but left states responsible for ensuring access to crisis services. Missouri’s seven centers for 988 calls went live Saturday, the first day possible.

“The launch of the 988 crisis line will establish a more streamlined and effective resource for Missourians in a behavioral health crisis,” Gov. Mike Parson said in a press release. “We know that when individuals are experiencing a crisis — the sooner we can connect them to support and provide assistance the better. The launch of 988 is an important step in addressing the mental health crisis and saving lives.”

Missouri’s 988 crisis specialists expect to field 253,000 contacts, which include calls and texts, in the first year of operation. Crisis specialists are expected to work with individuals in need of help, provide support and connect them to resources. Specialists can also dispatch mobile crisis response teams should the situation necessitate it.

“The Missouri Department of Mental Health (DMH) is seizing this opportunity to advance current crisis services towards an evidence-based care continuum prepared to deliver high-quality behavioral health services statewide,” Valerie Huhn, director of the DMH said. “Providing consistent crisis care and support will be integral to reducing the burden on and misuse of law enforcement/emergency response and other public health services.”

Featured Image: Gov. Mike Parson and U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt tout the Rocheport Bridge replacement project. (ALISHA SHURR/THE MISSOURI TIMES).